Developer: United Game Artists
Publisher: Sega of America
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: E (Violence)
Since the earliest generation consoles, pretty much every game produced has fallen neatly into a genre, making it easy to market, easy for fans to find, and easy to review, as there are “standards” of a sort for each genre of game, be it FPS, RTS, sports, RPG, whatever. And now there’s Rez. And I have to start from scratch, because, despite the fact that it’s advertised and marketed as a “shooter,” it’s infinitely more complex than that.
Rez puts you in control of a little wireframe person, zipping through what looks to be some sort of VR cyberspace computer network, full of wireframe landscapes and polygonal bad guys representing the network’s defense systems. So you zip through the network “on rails” (for the uninitiated, this means that you have no control over your movement, just your aim), and you blow up security programs, with the obligatory “boss monster” at the end of each of five levels.
“But Doc,” I hear you asking, “that sounds like hundreds of other games. What’s the problem? Doesn’t sound too complicated.” But to you I say, “not so fast, my friend!” You see, Rez throws a few curves into the standard, on-the-rails shooter gameplay. The game designers, in various interviews, have described their aim in designing the game as “synaesthesia,” the fusion of inputs from several senses to create a synchronized aesthetic experience. Heady, no? So here’s what’s up: everything (and I mean everything) that occurs on-screen in the game has corresponding accompaniment in the trance-techno soundtrack. You lock on a target – it adds a beat (or blip, or chirp, depending on the music of the level) to the soundtrack. You fire on that target – yet another addition, probably of a different sound. The target blows up – again with the soundtrack. In essence, your actions in playing the game are integral to constructing the background music of the game. Additionally, the game makes greater use of the DualShock mechanism than any other game I’ve played. The controller thrums in time with the backbeat throughout the game, and the vibrations grow stronger as you “power up” your little on-screen alter-ego. The closer to death you are, the fainter the beats become, as you are being “disconnected” from the system that you are invading. Get more powerful, and you’re more “in-tune” with the system, and the pulses and vibrations grow stronger.
The bottom line effect of all this is a seamless integration of sight, sound, and touch into the game. The visuals, while at some level simplistic (given to lots of wireframes and flat polygons), are actually quite stunning, particularly as your opponents disappear in bursts of varied-hue light and particles, filling the screen with splashes of color like bizarre cyberspace fireworks. The music is great stuff, orchestrated to match the tempo of the game as well as the player’s responses, and even if you’re not a fan of trance or techno, it’s pretty good game-noise. And the story (such as there is one) is actually kind of cool and interesting, particularly since it’s told through precious little but the actual play of the game itself. There are no cutscenes or cinematics to spell any of it out. You begin the game in media res, and the pieces just sort of come together as you advance through the levels.
The only drawback? Length. It took me just a few hours to beat the game’s five main levels. However, there are lots of additional play modes and a few additional “secret” levels that are unlocked as you defeat various aspects of the game, so replay value is quite high. Hell, the five levels that are available in the primary play mode are fun enough that they could keep one entertained for days without additional bonus material. Shut out the lights, pipe the PS2 through your stereo (if you can), and dig it. Unless you’re epileptic or otherwise prone to seizures, in which case the game designers specifically warn against playing with the lights out for fear of triggering unwelcome responses. Not often you see THAT little disclaimer in front of a video game, eh? Just more evidence that while it might not be getting the press that it’s high-profile competition is getting, Rez is an altogether new order of video game. And given it’s competition, it might slip under the radar if you’re not careful, so grab your copy ASAP.